After 13 games, N.C. State’s identity as a basketball team is still a work progress.
A young, reconfigured Wolfpack (10-3) team will learn more about itself in ACC play, which starts Saturday at home against Pittsburgh, fifth-year senior forward Jordan Vandenberg said.
“We’re getting an identity,” Vandenberg said. “We’re not there yet.”
There’s no doubt the Wolfpack has been better with Vandenberg, who missed the first four games with an ankle injury, in the lineup. Since Vandenberg’s return, the Pack is 8-1 with a four-point loss to Missouri as the sole blemish.
Vandenberg has averaged 7.1 points and 4.9 rebounds in nine games. He also leads the team with 21 blocks.
Third-year coach Mark Gottfried said his team, which heads into the 18-game ACC schedule ranked No. 75 in the RPI, is enthusiastic and energetic. He has players who like each other and show it on the court.
“Our guys cheer for each other; they pull for each other,” Gottfried said. “Those kind of things can help us develop and get through a tough league.”
N.C. State plays one of the more difficult league schedules with trips to Syracuse, Duke, Notre Dame, Pitt and North Carolina, with only Pitt and UNC coming to Raleigh.
The newness of the team – sophomore forward T.J. Warren is the only returning regular from last year’s NCAA tournament – and the addition of Pitt, Syracuse and Notre Dame to the league add an unknown element to the Pack’s league hopes.
“I can’t predict how we’re going to do,” Vandenberg said. “Pitt will be a good test for us. It will be interesting to see how we do.”
Gottfried has relied on four freshman in the regular rotation, two in the starting lineup, plus junior college transfer Desmond Lee. While he has been pleased with the progress of his young team, he knows there will be a learning curve in ACC play.
“They don’t really know what to expect just yet, but that’s all part of growing up and learning,” Gottfried said.
From the past two games – a 68-64 loss to Missouri and a 68-64 win at UNC Greensboro– Gottfried would like to see his team improveits ability to finish.
The Pack had a 10-point lead in the second half of the Mizzou loss but couldn’t hold it. UNCG cut the Pack’s 17-point lead in the second half down to two points, but State was able to close out the win.
“We have had some good leads and we need to keep our foot on the pedal and continue to execute and score,” Gottfried said. “We’ve allowed some teams to get back in the game. We’ve got to get better there.”
Gottfried said the inconsistencies in the second half in each of the past two games are part of the growing process. Just like opening the ACC schedule with Pitt (12-1), Notre Dame and Virginia in the first seven days will tell him more about his team.
“I do feel like we’ve gotten better, and that’s the most important thing,” Gottfried said.
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